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New Congressional Black Caucus Leader Pledges Support for Education

by Charles Devarics

Education, affirmative action, and an enhanced role for African
American lawmakers are all on the agenda of Rep. James Clyburn
(D-S.C.), elected last month as the new leader of the Congressional
Black Caucus (CBC) for 1999.

Although Congress has enacted Pell grant increases and a federal
Hope scholarship during the past two years, Clyburn sees the need for
more action on higher education.

“We need to expand scholarships and grants,” said Clyburn, who also
plans a major push for federal funds to renovate historic buildings at
historically Black colleges and universities.

A recent U.S. General Accounting Office report set a cost of $755
million to restore HBCU historic buildings, and Clyburn wants the
federal government to fund about half of that amount. Colleges and
universities would provide a dollar-for-dollar match, he said.

Education facilities also are a major concern at the K-12 level,
and Clyburn supports the efforts of President Bill Clinton and others
to secure new federal financing to repair and build schools. Efforts
failed during budget negotiations this year, but Clyburn said he will
revisit the issue next year.

Cities and towns need about $69 billion to renovate or build
schools, he said, and modern facilities “make for a better learning
environment.”

Prior to his election to Congress in 1992, Clyburn worked on
affirmative action for four South Carolina governors, and he identified
the issue as another major focus for his CBC tenure. In particular, he
plans to broaden support for the president’s “mend it, don’t end it”
approach to the issue.

“We’ve allowed the enemies of affirmative action to push the issues
forward,” he said, without giving adequate reasons why affirmative
action is so important. “You’ve got to tie the remedy back to the
problem.”

While states such as California have scaled back affirmative action
with divisive rhetoric, Clyburn noted that in the city of Houston, city
officials and voters showed their support for affirmative action by
stressing the importance of remedying past discrimination.

But the Hopwood decision in Texas has reduced college enrollment
among students of color, and Congress periodically has considered plans
to scale back affirmative action in higher education and other areas.
Earlier this year, lawmakers defeated a proposal by Rep. Frank Riggs
(R-Calif.) to end many affirmative action practices.

“Our goal is to contain Hopwood,” he said, which, though it
pertains specifically to colleges in Texas, has had a chilling effect
nationwide.

In South Carolina, Clyburn worked on affirmative action with both
Republican and Democratic governors. That experience, he said, can help
him articulate the issue “in ways it can be acceptable to Blacks and
Whites, Democrats and Republicans.”

One immediate challenge for Clyburn is to gain renewed visibility
for the CBC within Congress. After the Republicans took control of the
U.S. House in 1995, the CBC lost its funding and its separate Capitol
Hill office. Since that time, the CBC has worked primarily out of the
personal office of its leader. For the past two years, for example, the
caucus was based in the office of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the
outgoing CBC chair.

The departure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) may spur
changes, however. Clyburn said he wants to meet with the new speaker,
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), to discuss a possibly new attitude among
Republican leaders concerning the CBC.

“Mr. Livingston hopefully will treat us with more dignity and respect than Newt Gingrich treated us,” Clyburn said.

The incoming CBC leader hopes to convince Livingston to develop
criteria that would identify a legitimate caucus. Through the process,
major caucuses then could become eligible for funding again.

Another of Clyburn’s goals for the next two years is a fair and
accurate year 2000 Census, which should include statistical sampling to
better include African Americans. GOP leaders oppose such a move.

“We’ve always been undercounted and we’ll be undercounted again” unless the government allows sampling, he said.

Clyburn also plans to stress environmental justice, to ensure clean
air and water in low-income communities that often have more pollution
than high-income areas.

When elected in 1992, Clyburn was the first African American
federal lawmaker from South Carolina since Reconstruction. With his
recent election, he also is the first chair of the CBC from a Southern
state.

The Congressional Black Caucus includes 39 African American
lawmakers. During the past two years, Clyburn has served as chairman of
the CBC Foundation’s annual legislative conference.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) also has appointed
Clyburn to the Democratic Steering Committee. The new chairman also
serves on the Veterans Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure
Committees.

A Sumter, S.C., native, Clyburn graduated from South Carolina State
University and previously served as a teacher, youth and community
development director, and state human affairs commissioner.

Hispanic members of Congress also chose a new leader this month.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) will become the first women to
chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In a statement announcing her
selection, Roybal-Allard identified education, health care, and
economic development as major issues for her tenure.

“All of these issues are critical to the well-being of the Latino community and to the nation as a whole,” she said.

Roybal-Allard is the first Mexican-American woman elected to the
U.S. House and has served since 1993. She is the daughter of retired
U.S. Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Calif.), who served in Congress for 30 years.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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